Visa deal under fire in Parliament
By Peter Wilson, NZN Political Writer
The Government is defending its visa deal for wealthy Chinese tourists against claims that international criminals will be able to slip into the country.
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy announced on Wednesday that from November 22 members of China Southern Airlines' frequent flyers club won't have to meet the usual background checks when they apply for visitor visas.
He says he wants to make it easier for them to visit New Zealand because they are big spenders.
NZ First leader Winston Peters asked him in parliament on Thursday: "What assurances can he give that international criminals will not be entering New Zealand through the China Southern Airlines frequent flyer scheme?"
Mr Guy said applicants would still have to provide proof of good character and the process would be robust.
Mr Peters said he had an internal memo from the immigration department's intelligence, risk and integrity decision warning that fast tracking the frequent flyers would set a dangerous precedent.
"It says `international criminals belong to such clubs'," he said.
Mr Guy said the memo had been discussed by immigration officials "and they have assured me they have a very robust system in place".
Mr Peters said Auckland's Sky City Casino had been involved in negotiations between the immigration department and China Southern Airlines.
"A casino and a communist government airline have now acquired privileges for their customers not available to any other group of people anywhere else in the world," he said.
Mr Guy said that to the best of his knowledge the casino wasn't involved in the negotiations.
Mr Peters later tabled a report from Travel Trade magazine which said Sky City worked closely with China Southern Airlines to bring VIP gamblers to Auckland.